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European Muslim women in full Islamic dress (Reuters: Jean-Paul Pelissier)

With the recent approval of a draft law in Belgium to ban the Islamic facial veil, as well as continued discussion of such a law in France, this controversial issue is very much in the news at the moment.

On the one hand, such a law can obviously be seen as being discriminatory toward Muslims, which could worsen relations between Muslims and non-Muslims. Even worse, it may result in Muslim men preventing their women from leaving the house, which would obviously be deeply concerning. Also, what about Muslim women’s right to dress as they please? I guess the key question here is whether they really want to wear such clothing, or are if they’re forced to. I’m sure many Muslim women think they make this choice of their own free will, but I find it difficult to believe that they really want this—social and religious conditioning can make it difficult for them to truly be objective about this issue.

On the other hand, such a law could actually enhance relations between Muslims and non-Muslims. The facial veil is a huge barrier to social interaction, and is a great source of resentment amongst non-Muslims toward Muslims. Also, it isn’t actually required by Islam anyway—in reality, it is just something that has arisen as a means for Muslim men to control their women, with only a vague and tenuous religious basis. Perhaps a ban on the facial veil could force some modernisation and greater integration of the Muslim community in western countries. It will no doubt lead to problems initially (such as what I refer to above), but perhaps in the long term, it will actually lead to greater harmony.

There are also simple practical issues to consider, such as the inability to identify people wearing a facial veil, which is obviously necessary for law enforcement and many normal, everyday activities. From an ideological perspective, this issue presents quite a challenge: freedom of religion versus the rights of women. And even that isn’t clear-cut: as I say above, it isn’t actually required by Islam anyway, but on the other hand, many Muslim women might argue that such a law would infringe on their right to dress as they please. Still, if they were truly objective, I’m sure they’d see it for what it really is: the oppression of women. So what do you think? Should the Islamic facial veil be banned?

I’m sure you’ve all heard by now of Christopher Hitchens’ and Richard Dawkins’ push to have the Pope arrested for crimes against humanity, for his multiple cover-ups of priests sexually abusing children. In my opinion, there isn’t any question that he should be—I guess the only real question is, can he? Perhaps we’ll find out soon. If he can’t, that would be a crime against humanity in itself.

That title may sound like bad news, but actually, I consider it to be a very good news—clearly, it means that atheists are really starting to make an impact in the media and on the population at large. With the recent passing of “Zombie Jesus Day” (thanks Joe!), we have of course had the annual Good Friday sermons from Christian leaders in Australia. Sydney Anglican Archbishop Peter Jensen took it as an opportunity to spout two old chestnuts: that atheism is as much a religion as Christianity, and that it has resulted in mass murder at the hands of Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot. I have already responded thoroughly to these claims in my Religion and Morality article, so I won’t repeat myself here. Suffice it to say, I agree with the Australian Atheist Foundation president David Nicholls that this is an act of desperation by the church—here is what else he had to say. I’ve also always found the claim that atheism is a religion in itself to be rather curious anyway—it’s kind of like saying “well okay, we admit that that our belief system is crap, but hey, yours is crap too!”.

I am very sorry about the lack of posts recently, but the reaction to my new sexy Bible readings has been overwhelming! Anyway, I’ve been intending to do a detailed article on the passing of Obama’s health care plan and the reaction to it, but I wanted to get a post up quickly to bring this petition to everyone’s attention: Tell the Republican Party to STOP Inciting Tea Party Racism! The extremism and hatred of the American right in what is supposed to be a civilised country is simply astonishing.

Teach the Controversy?

For quite some time now I’ve been meaning to do an article on why creationism should not be taught in science class, but I think A.C. Grayling covers it very well in this video. I guess the only thing I would add (although he does already touch on this point toward the end of the video) is that the only thing that should be taught in science class is, well, science, and that creationism simply does not fit the true definition of science. That is, not trying to make the facts fit a preconceived notion (as in the case of the Biblical creation story), but rather, looking at the facts objectively, and seeing what conclusions it leads us to, then testing our conclusions through objective, repeatable experiments.

Oh yes: calling creationism “intelligent design” doesn’t make it any more scientific or respectable. ;-)

A Time For Celebration!

Not only is it Chinese New Year’s Eve tomorrow (the 13th), today is also Darwin Day! Sadly, I’ve only just found out about the petition for President Obama to recognise Darwin Day, and it’s too late to sign it. :-( Oh well, there’s always next year I guess, and it appears it hasn’t worked this year anyway. How sad that it is so politically dangerous for the US President to openly support one of the most well supported theories in all of science, and possibly the most important idea by anyone ever.

Oh yes—apparently there’s something called Valentine’s Day on the 14th as well. It appears to be some kind of cynical commercial exercise to force us to spend money on stuff that none of us need. ;-)

The case against carbon trading—but is it a fair assessment?

It seems the debate over carbon trading just won’t stay out of the headlines at the moment. The opposition party in Australia—in their usual blatant political opportunism—have decided this week to unveil an alternative climate change policy to carbon trading. However, in spite of calling carbon trading “a great big fat tax”, they have yet to specify how their own policy will be funded—and even worse, it will basically mean business as usual for big polluters anyway. So it’s basically a climate change policy for those who don’t believe in climate change, and for those who think profits for big business should always take precedence over everything else. They want to appear as though they are doing something without actually doing anything useful, while incurring costs to the consumer and pretending it won’t cost them anything. This is hardly surprising, given their present leadership. Read the rest of this entry »

Carbon Trading?

It seems my previous post has turned into a pretty heated discussion as to the merits or otherwise of carbon trading, so seeing as you want to talk about this issue, I thought I should devote a post to it, and move that discussion here (as it is off-topic for that thread). Although I am very certain we should take action on climate change, I am not sure whether carbon trading is the best way to go about it or not. I can certainly see enormous potential benefits to it (especially for the third world), but it is also very complex, and potentially susceptible to corruption and excessive bureaucracy. Anyway, as I’m not sure where I stand, let’s have everybody’s opinions so I can make up my mind. :-)

As to whether carbon trading is a conspiracy or not, I will be devoting a future post to our peculiar willingness to believe in conspiracies, which I suspect is related to our tendency to believe in God. I certainly do not think action on climate change generally is a conspiracy though, as it is very much against the short term interests (in other words, short-sighted greed) of big business. After all, they have always opposed it in the past—and with very good reason, as it hurts their short term profits.

India vs. Australia

No, I’m not talking about the cricket—I don’t think I’ll ever be able to understand how anyone could watch a game that goes for five days without slipping into a boredom induced coma. I’m referring to the continued attacks on Indian students in Melbourne (I’m happy to say that this isn’t happening in the part of Australia I live in), the news of which has been a very sad reflection on Australia in the international media. The Victorian police and the Australian government have both tried to deny that there is a racist element to these attacks, but while that may have been true when there were only a few of them, there have been so many now that I think a racist motive must be undeniable to any reasonable person. I don’t believe Australia is a racist country, but like every other country on earth, there are certainly still plenty of racists here. And neither the police nor the government will be able to do much about them while they bury their heads in the sand and pretend they don’t exist.

Indeed, the government and the Australian media seem to have taken to blaming the Indian media for stirring up this problem. Once again, there was originally some truth to this, and I’m sure it did amplify the hatred of the racists behind these attacks. But that doesn’t even come close to being an excuse for these attacks, which really have been happening (and they are continuing to happen, with the result that one Indian man has now been murdered, and another doused and set alight). This is totally and utterly inexcusable, and it has been going on for far too long now. The recent cartoon in the Indian media portraying the Victorian police as the Ku Klux Klan was certainly over the top, but I can understand how they feel—why is it taking so long for the Victorian police to get any leads on these attacks, when they’ve been going on for so long now? It just doesn’t seem to make any sense.

The Australian government and the Victorian police need to stop trying to deny the obvious racist element to these attacks—and trying to blame the Indian media for them—so they can take serious action to stop these terrible crimes. If nothing else, our huge foreign student industry depends on it.

Okay, yes I know I posted this video last Christmas, but it’s just so damn funny that I had to post it again! Besides, I thought some of my newer readers may have missed it when I posted it last time. A word of warning though: this video may be highly offensive to Christians of delicate sensibilities. ;-)

Speaking of Christians, I’ve been starting to receive emails letting me know that not all Christians are extremists who want to force their beliefs on other people. Well of course I do know that: if all Christians practised the sort of modern, progressive and—above all—peaceful and tolerant outlook advocated by such people as Bishop John Shelby Spong, then I wouldn’t feel any need to write about Christianity at all. But sadly, we know that isn’t the case, especially in the US, where fundamentalist Christianity is on the rise. And many moderate Christians make apologies for such people, instead of attacking them head on as the threat to the future of humanity (and indeed Christianity) they are.

So having said that, I would like to wish a merry Christmas to all my more progressive and tolerant Christian readers and fans, and a happy holidays to all!

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